Last week I talked about what foods you might expect to get from a food pantry. Now I'll go over how to make what you've got work for you. All of these ideas will utilize items that are common to receive from a food pantry with no or very few outside supplements.
Dried beans: Let's start with the very basic of items. Let me tell you, we ate a lot of dried beans for about 18 months. Beans can be cooked down in your slow cooker or on the stove top. They can be prepared plain with no added seasoning except for salt and pepper. Or if you have it, you can add about 1 cup of diced ham or chicken per 1 pound of beans. This will serve at least 4 people just on it's own, and dried beans are considered both an excellent source of protein as well as a serving of vegetables. If you were able to obtain some, add a little bread to the meal, or you can serve Saltines (or other cracker) on the side like my mom used to. If you need to stretch your pound of beans, serve the beans over another one of the basics - rice.
Spaghetti sauce, stewed tomatoes, or tomato sauce and pasta: It's pretty obvious what to do with spaghetti sauce and pasta. Even more so if you were given a pound or so of ground beef. But what if you got stewed tomatoes or tomato sauce? Believe it or not, my mother's spaghetti sauce that I could have eaten gallons of, was just tomato sauce, tomato paste, water and Italian seasonings. A can of stewed tomatoes can be crushed in the blender, with a potato masher or with the back of a fork. After that, if you have a few basic dried herbs, you can follow this recipe for marinara sauce as best you can with the ingredients you have. This meal is a touch short in the protein department, but it will still serve you well.
Condensed tomato Soup, evaporated milk, pasta: Generally I try to steer clear of canned soups, but this is one I make an exception for. Make your soup with evaporated milk instead of water. (I've even made tomato soup from tomato juice and evaporated milk.) Add in a cup or so of cooked pasta - any kind. You'll hit all your food groups with this one - vegetables, dairy, protein (from the milk) and grains. Serve with bread or crackers on the side. Or if you got some bread and cheese, make some grilled cheese sandwiches to round everything out.
Macaroni and Cheese, canned tuna or chicken, canned vegetables, evaporated milk: This is an old college trick of mine. Prepare your mac and cheese as directed. If you don't have any butter, leave a bit of the water when you drain the macaroni. Add a can of tuna or chicken and a cup of canned vegetables, both drained. Peas work especially well. It's not the greatest meal out there, but I'll bet the kids will like it. And it will fill you up. Remember, we're trying to make the best of things.
Tortillas; canned refried beans, pinto beans or black beans; cheese, rice: Spread beans and cheese on tortillas (mash pinto or black beans if desired), bake at 350 degrees on a cookie sheet for 5 - 10 minutes until edges are crisp and cheese is melted. (If you have some chili powder, you could even adapt this recipe for Spicy Bean Burritos). Top with tomatoes, lettuce and/or salsa if you were able to get any. Serve with rice.
Next week, a real honest to goodness recipe using primarily foods you can obtain from a food pantry.
Find the entire Making the Best of Things series here.